Essays - Human nature

As I write this I feel my newly purchased cat next to my leg. She watches the pen as I draft; following the lines and the shapes only to be quickly distracted by a sudden noise outside. Why should I come to care for her existence? She being of another species with no direct purpose for myself.

Are we so different? A stones throw away from each other in the gene pool of evolution.

It seems that evolution theory in all its vastness and controversy has propelled humanity into new worlds of understanding and relating to the nature around us.

A question many theorists have pondered over time is how we have come to be so different from our animal cousins. In a society full of symbolic attachments and expressions, we engage is a multitude of behaviors: altruism, kinship, and principles for example. None uniquely human and none present in every human. Is becoming aware of the self, with the ability to self- reflect and occupy symbolic association; human nature? -If so, to what degree? What is human nature? Does it even exist?

As French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre proposes, ‘we have no human nature’. He believes we are not pre-determined. ‘Man is nothing else but what he makes of himself’, ‘We are simply here, and it is up to us to define ourselves.’ He goes on to state ‘ Man exists, turns up, appears on the scene and only afterwards, defines himself.’ “ (Sartre, 1945, Existentialism is a Humanism)

In this we see Sartre place the power of ‘nature’ in mans hands, removing the concept of creator or one single force, which would predetermine mans nature.

The concept of human nature deems itself irrelevant and incohesive, for there is no one nature type /disposition that can blanket all of humanity and therefore deem its self, natural –part of nature. There is no feature/behavior common to every culture.

Human nature has a religious connotations and proceeds in the social context of those who define it. 

Evolution theory does not contradict this definition; evolution may even be seen as its ally. Although defined by humans, evolution addresses the non-biased transmutation of species on planet earth. Evolution theory and the process of adaptation can contradict what we have deemed ‘natural’ in western society.

The missing link in this discussion is consciousness; I see evolution theory as falling short when it comes to understanding how consciousness came to be and what contributed to its formation.

Theorist and ethnobotanist Terrence McKenna proposes a theory of how the human mind and ‘consciousness’ emerged in his ‘stoned ape’ theory.

‘The presence of psychedelic substances in the diet of early human beings created a number of changes our evolutionary situation. When a person takes a small amount of psilocybin visual acuity improves. They can actually see slightly better, and this means that animals allowing, psilocybin in their food chain would have increased hunting success, which means increased food supply, which means increased reproductive success, which is the name of the game in evolution. It is the organism that manages to propagate itself numerically that is successful. The presence of psilocybin in the diet of early pack-hunting primates caused individual that were ingesting the psilocybin to have increased visual acuity. At slightly higher does of psilocybin there is sexual arousal of the central nervous system. Again, a factor which would increase reproductive success is reinforced’. (Mckenna, hightimes magazine, 2000)

This places the use of psilocybin at the forefront of the evolution discussion in how we have formed cognitive abilities to increase fitness. What we see here, is what you eat alters the parameters of the environments that are selecting you. ?

The discussion on the impact of diet in regards to human evolution and its nature is under adressed in evolutionary theory. These leaps in primate evolution are associated with a transformed diet.  McKenna continues to state:

There was a period when, because of the presence of psilocybin in the diet, the natural tendency to male dominance hierarchies was interrupted. It was in that moment that community values, altruism, language, long-term planning, awareness of cause and effect, all the things that distinguish us were established. Then, as the mushroom became less available due to climatological factors, after 15,000 years of this human-mushroom quasi-symbiosis, the old dominance hierarchy hard-wiring re-asserted itself in the ancient Middle East with the invention of agriculture, the need to become sedentary in order to carry out agriculture, the need to defend surplus, the establishment of kingship.’ (McKenna, Mondo interview, 2000)


McKenna identifies our ancestor’s use of psilocybin and other plants compounds, such as DMT and opiates as critical to our survival and formation. Increased reproduction, acuity for hunting and most poignant of all was the ability to self-reflect. This defining feature of ‘human nature’. The experiences with these compounds gave birth to religion, another factor in what McKenna believes created linguistic thinking.


For McKenna these are the most defining features and most important in the promoting of our species and evolution into Homo sapiens. After this transformation took place, our species would have begun moving out of Africa to populate the rest of the planet.


‘McKenna points out many consciousness catalyzing effects on human development when we realized that there were opiate plants that made us not feel pain, stimulants that enabled us boundless energy, psychoactive that enabled deep states of introspection and changes to sensory acuity, tranquilizing agents to aid sleep and rest and other consciousness catalyzing ‘Terence McKenna (1999) 'Food of the gods: the search for the original tree of knowledge: a radical history of plants, drugs, and human evolution - Medical B



"The 20th century mind is nostalgic for the paradise that once existed on the mushroom-dotted plains of Africa, where the plant-human symbiosis occurred that pulled us out of the animal body and into the tool-using, culture-making, imagination-exploring creature that we are." - McKenna


We could not have walked this path of self-realization without evolution theory. Here we have so uniquely come to be. To reduce the vast complexity of humanity to ‘just another species’, is to deny a crucial element of evolution. What constitutes evolution itself is not defined by theory, as its very nature is to transmute which transcends definition, as does the idea that there is human nature. Rather we should turn our sights to consciousness and the many other variables that assist humanity to transcend the cultural definitions of life and nature. To be all that it is, all that it will be and all that it is not.